MOORETOWN, PA: 
AGE 6 TO 11

While I don’t recall causing Dad a lot of grief right after Mom died in January, 1953, I may have.  He managed to trust me to stay out of trouble for the rest of first grade and the following summer, but, by September he had second thoughts.  I went to live with “Aunt” Loretta out in Sweet Valley.  Loretta, in reality, was no blood kin to me.  A full sister to Dad’s first wife, Mae Hann,  she was truly an aunt to my half-brothers. At the same time, she was the half-sister of Clara Calkins Holcomb, who had been raising Cliff ever since Mae had died giving birth to him.  Dad had taken my Mom, Viola, to visit the in-laws from his first marriage many times and they all liked Mom.  Now that Mom, too, had died, Aunt Loretta felt she would do her part by taking me in.

Life at Aunt Loretta’s house was more fun than being by myself back in Mooretown.  I got to play with my “Cousin” Shelly, Loretta’s grandson, who lived next door.  He and I and his sister, Donna, walked the 200 yards to the Mott one-room school and I started second grade there.  The teacher was Mr. Arthur Edwards and, like Myron Moss in my first grade, he taught first through eighth grade.  Memorable among the other students was Billy Mitchell who was noted for eating boogers.  I think he was a year or two older than me and, by the time I graduated from high school, he had made it up to seventh grade.

I had only gone to the Mott for four months when, in January, 1954, Ross Township closed down its 8 one-room schools and opened its brand-new grade school.  Golly, it had indoor plumbing AND a cafeteria!  I also got to meet a whole bunch of new classmates from all over the township rather than just the ones from near me in Mooretown or Sweet Valley.  The only downside was that I had to sit all day in the classroom of Mrs. Dorothy Labarr.  She was, by our calculation, an elderly lady, and quite a cranky one at that.  Behind her back, we called her “Crowbar”.   Although we second-graders had total confidence in our manual skills, we weren’t trusted to carry our lunch trays back to our room from the cafeteria without dropping them. (That was allowed starting in third grade.) In second grade, “lunch ladies” would wheel the trays to us on carts. We were allowed, however, to buy ice cream and other treats from the cafeteria and carry them outside at recess or lunch time.  Dixie Cups were a big favorite, for we could save up their lids and mail them in to get “autographed” glossy black-and-white pictures of cowboy heroes like Tom Mix and Gene Autry.  I also liked ice cream sandwiches and was once on my way to the playground with one at lunch time.  Since I carried it in front of me, it preceded me around the corner of the building. That dastardly, infamous Billy Mitchell, fresh from an entrée of boogers, no doubt, laid in wait around the corner.  Before I could stop him, he grabbed a bite of my ice cream sandwich and ran away. 

I reckon I must have proven to be, at age 8, more than Aunt Loretta could handle, even though her daughter, Louise (Sheldon) Lord, would never admit that to me.  I believe that, at about the time the new school opened, I returned to live with Dad in Mooretown.  Isabel White died in November, 1954. While I no longer had a place to go for biscuits, I was now old enough to go hang out with other neighborhood boys.  I will tell more about them shortly.

My third grade teacher was, initially, Miss Celia Hortop but she then got married and we had to call her Mrs. O’Leary.  Although she was much nicer than Mrs. Labarr had been, she had one strict rule: we had to clean our plates before we went out to play at lunch time.  I tried, in vain, to tell her that I hated that chili con carne but she made me eat it anyway.  I then proceeded to barf all over her floor!  Following that episode, I hatched a new plan.  Vernon Moore was the poorest kid in class.  His parents were, I think, “reliefers”, the 1950’s name for welfare recipients.  As such, Vernon didn’t get enough to eat at home.  I began slipping Vernon the foods I hated and even some of what I did like.  Other kids saw it and contributed, too.  There were days when Vernon ate three lunches.  I’m sure Mrs. O’Leary was aware of what we were up to but she never objected.  I think I met the Davidson kids in third grade, too.  Clarence was my age but on the slow side.  His nose always seemed to run and he had a large red handkerchief sticking out of a back pocket.  I don’t think he advanced with me to fourth grade.  His sister, Susan, may have been 10 or 11 when I was 7 but the poor soul was as deaf as a rock.  As is with most hearing-impaired children, her speech was practically unintelligible.  Called upon to recite, she’d blather away until Mrs. O’Leary would wave her to a stop.  By today’s standard, it was nearly criminal that she had been “mainstreamed” but I guess we didn’t have “help for the hearing impaired” classes in the 50’s.  I don’t know if Susan EVER got out of grade school.

In fourth grade, I was again taught by my first grade teacher, Myron Moss.  This time, however, was much more one-on-one because, like all the other teachers in the new school, he had just the one class to teach.  My most memorable fourth grade subject was arithmetic.  For our “times tables”, Mr. Moss kept us interested by running competitions. He timed us with a stopwatch and whoever could recite the “one-sies”, “two-sies” and the rest up through “twelve-sies” the fastest would win a stick of gum. A “final exam” consisted of him using “flash cards” which, after shuffling, would result in 144 possibilities coming up to be answered.  Mr. Moss was only 53 at the time but suffered some sort of affliction that caused his hands to tremble.  This caused him to fumble with the flash cards and, knowing I was being timed, I kept urging him to hurry up.  I won the competition with a time of 57 seconds and won a Hershey bar.  I didn’t miss one day of school in fourth grade but, coming up on the very last day in June, 1956, Dad worked out a deal with Mr. Moss.  I got an excused absence as we went down to Easton, PA, to see my oldest brother, Warren, graduate from Lafayette College.  Warren was 28 then, having served 4 years in the Army and attended school on the original GI Bill.  The commencement speaker was Vice President Nixon. I drew chuckles from the audience as I cheered when Warren’s name was announced and he was handed his diploma.

In fifth grade I was taught by Mr. Delbert Hines.  I had turned 11 right before school started. I was starting to consider girls to be, less and less, creatures to be picked on and, more and more, sweet things with whom I should flirt.  Chief among them was Mary Lou Buck, whose Dad was a PA Fish Commission officer.  Their family, I think, had just moved into Sweet Valley with his reassignment but I could be wrong.  Mary Lou could have been in my fourth grade class but, as I said, I wasn’t that interested in girls then.  Beyond being a blue-eyed blonde sweetie, she was also SMART; a character trait I look for in women even today.  When Mr. Hines wasn’t looking, I’d pass her “mash” notes.  One asked her “Do you love me?” and I got one in reply saying “I would if you’d go wash your face.”  Totally smitten, I got a pass to the bathroom and complied.  Later that year, a spelling bee saw us as the two finalists.  I omitted the first “R” in “February”, she got it right, and beat me!  It took me two weeks to recover from the blow to my pride and then I again loved her. LOL  (Mary Lou’s Dad got transferred again when we were in seventh grade and I didn’t see her again for over 40 years.  It was a meeting I shouldn’t have requested.  She had turned into a middle-aged, brassy divorcee who cussed more than I did and was nearly as chubby as I was.)

I’ll talk about sixth grade in my next chapter, for it began in California and I have a LOT more to say about what happened to Dad and me there.

After Dad built the new house, we rented it out to a Mrs. Haas, who was the mother of our neighbor, Ethel Geilsleichter.  She was a nice old lady who, best of all, had a television.  Dad only bought a newspaper once a week, on Sunday, to do the crossword puzzles.  (For having only an eighth-grade education, he was quite adept at the puzzles and had an amazing vocabulary even though he seldom used the big words..  At this point in my life, I was too young to chip in but, as a teen, I was able to help.  This early training set me on a path I continue even now, at age 61.  My best pal, Theron Jeffery, and I regularly defeat one of the toughest puzzles, the one from the New York Sunday Times.)  I don’t know how much of the 1950’s Sunday Wilkes-Barre paper Mrs. Haas read, but I made a point of taking it uphill to her as soon as we were finished with it.  I always got invited to stay and watch some TV and she always had a glass of milk for me.  (HER drink, I’m told by Marion Stroud, who bought the place from us and continued to rent to Mrs. Haas, was alcohol.  Marion says a beer truck made a delivery practically weekly but in my time there, I never saw one bottle.)  Dad sometimes come to watch TV, too, and I recall a show called “Omnibus” that had historical pieces he liked.

Allow me to interject a bit more of my genealogy, which will explain just how lucky I was to have had neighbor boys to play with.  Without them, I’d have been quite a lonely boy following the death of my Mom.  Mom was the youngest of 5 siblings, having originally had 4 brothers.  Three of the four died within four months of each other, way back in 1918; Henry was killed in June in WW! France; and Stanley and Herbert died from the Spanish Flu only three DAYS apart in October of that year.  That left only Marvin, who was 3 years older than Mom.  Often, that closeness in age will yield cousins who are also close in age.  Marvin, however, married at age 21 in 1924 while Mom was all of 36 before she gave up “old-maidenhood”.   Even then, her first pregnancy resulted in the birth of a premature boy who lived only 14 hours.  By the time I was born in 1946, Marvin’s kids, all SEVEN of them, were anywhere from 15 to 21 years older than me.  None of them lived out in the country and, going on to get married themselves, they had no interest whatsoever in coming to visit me.  Dad never took me “over town” to see any of them and I completely lost track of my maternal kin.  Heck, I didn’t even KNOW I had had seven first cousins until, in my mid-50’s, I started looking into my genealogy!  By then, it was too late.  Trying to locate them, I found that 6 of the 7 had died.  The seventh, Bernice, is a snot who told me to go away and not bother her again.

When I was 4 in 1950, Elsie and Wilson Mahoney had moved in just up the dirt road from us. They had 3 boys older than me but, at that time, I was too young to hang out with them and only went up the road for biscuits at Isabel’s.  Later in the mid-1950’s, though, things had changed.  Both Mom and Isabel had died, I was back from Aunt Loretta’s living with Dad, and I had plenty of time on my hands until he got home from work.  I started playing with Dennis, Daniel, and Tommy Mahoney. Their younger brothers, Robert and Rodney, would tag along, too.  Most of the time, we’d be found out in the woods.  We’d skinny dip in a nearby “crick” or swing on John Geilsleichter’s grapevines until he’d catch us and chase us.  We also enjoyed playing “lumberjack” which consisted of pushing over dead trees just so we could, justifiably, yell “Timberrrrr!” Just as young bears will scratch their backs higher and higher on trees as they grow, we found we could topple bigger trees each year.  Sometimes we’d just hang around their house.  Elsie and Wilson didn’t have all that much money, what with all those mouths to feed, for, by 1958, they’d added 3 daughters to the family. (A fourth daughter was born in 1960.)  Elsie always had a large garden and they had a cow and several pigs.  The pigs were kept inside an electrified fence and fed, for the most part, table scraps.  I learned the hard way to not “slop the pigs” over that fence by dumping scraps from a metal bucket.   I didn’t need high school physics to find out that electricity is easily conducted back up the falling fluid stream to the bucket.  In the barn was a corn-shelling machine that would separate kernels from cobs to feed the animals.  One would drop the ears into it and turn a handle.  We delighted in just spinning the handle even when we had no ears to insert.  I didn’t notice that little Rodney had his hand near the gears and he got a fairly severe, but not critical, squeezing.  Wilson Mahoney was  a stern taskmaster, know to smack the heck out of his boys but he dared not touch me.  He just banished me from the premises for a week or so.

We also spent a good deal of time playing softball in the cow pasture.  We would have played hardball but those balls were too expensive for our meager budgets.  Our softball itself was no great shakes, completely coming apart at the seams and comprised mostly of the tape holding it together.  We only had two bats, both of which had cracked handles mended with wood screws and wrapped in black friction tape.  Our “diamond” was like the other “equipment”, i.e., not even close to regulation.  Our bases weren’t necessarily 60 feet apart and the baselines didn’t meet at 90-degree angles.  The bases, you see, were COW FLOPS!  They could vary from one day’s game to the next depending on where Bossy had wandered overnight.  While sliding was permissible, we hardly ever chose to slide into one of these “bases”.  We also had to make another adjustment because we only had 6 players.  As such, we had no “teams” and no score was kept.  We just kept batting until we’d made 3 outs and then we’d go on defense and another guy would bat.  The defense initially had 5 players. If you reached base, one defender would come in to bat and try to knock you in, leaving only 4 guys on defense.  There’d be a pitcher, one guy on the right side of the infield who also covered first base, another guy on the left side of the infield, and one lonely outfielder in, say, left field.  In that configuration, anything hit to either center or right field was an automatic out.  What we played was FAR from official “softball” but, what the heck, we had a terrific amount of fun.

When I was about 10, Daniel Mahoney and I got into a serious amount of trouble.  He was 14 at that time and, on Saturdays, he peddled “The Grit”, a weekly newspaper published in Williamsport, PA.  I’d tag along to keep him company. Sometimes we’d walk his route while, at other times, we rode our bikes. (I had a J.C. Higgins bike from Sears.) Our route took us past “the Garbush house” on “Garbush Hill” (seen on an 1873 map of Ross Township as “Hogback Mountain”.)  To our young minds, no one had lived in that vacant house FOREVER and we took it to be abandoned.  We found it a tempting target.  One day, we decided to toss rocks at it and managed to break a few windows.  That was so much fun that we continued the practice over the next couple of weeks.  Eventually, our arms got sore from all that throwing and we took up poking out second-floor windows using a clothes poles.  One day, we heard a car door slam and we froze.  We’d been CAUGHT!  Luckily we had brought our bikes that day and we took off running.  Down across a field we fled, and thence, half-falling down a steep hill.   We knew it wasn’t safe to travel on the dirt road proper, so we paralleled it about 100 yards over into the woods.  We must have stayed in the woods for a half hour and then, deciding the heat was off, returned to the road.  BAD choice!  A man in a car stopped and accused us of doing the mischief.  We denied it, but the truth came out in the end.  It cost $52 to replace all those windows and our Dads split the cost.  I reckon Wilson beat Daniel so bad that he could hardly walk for a couple of weeks but I escaped physical retribution.  My Dad NEVER hit me.  Oh, he’d get mad enough to hit me but I’d run and hide for a couple of hours until he cooled down.

When I wasn’t messing around with the Mahoney boys, I’d be over the hill, eastward on Route 115, at Wayne Rosencrans’ gas station/garage.  He had two sons. Rennie was about 3 or 4 years older than me and Jimmie was 2 years younger than me.  We didn’t get into as much trouble as I did with Daniel Mahoney but, still we DID manage to seriously pollute the nearby “crick”.  (We’d never heard the word “pollution” but we still managed to commit it.) Wayne had plenty of leftover one-quart motor oil cans and we carried them by the armload down to the water.  We’d found that filling them with water and then sinking them was enough to keep them in place against a not-very-strong current.  We built a nice breastwork of cans which was enough to back up the “crick” to a depth of maybe 3 feet.  It wasn’t deep enough in which to do a lot of swimming but we did dog-paddle a bit.  Meanwhile, downstream of the breastwork, all the excess motor oil flowed out of those cans and on down the “crick”.

Jimmie Rosencrans and I also developed another neat trick.  At night, we’d take one of our bikes and, about halfway up the hill on 115 between our houses, we’d drape it over the westbound guard rail.  Dabbing some of his Mom’s ketchup on our heads, we’d take turns lying next to the bike.  Invariably, about every tenth car would see us and assume that some poor kid on a bike had been hit by a car.  By the time they screeched to a halt and backed up, we were long gone, tumbling down the side hill in the dark, laughing our butts off.

Rennie, at 14, was old enough to have a hunting license.  Only 10, I’d tag along as he hunted squirrels.  We figured that, should a game warden come along, I’d say “Oh, I’m not HUNTING! I don’t need a license!  I’m just keeping my buddy company as he hunts.”  anyone who has ever hunted squirrels will know that they are tricky buggers.  No matter how much you circle around their tree, they’ll always circle to its opposite side, 180 degrees out of the line of fire.  Rennie and I developed our own plan of attack.  Even without a gun, I could help.  I’d stand below the tree and bark like a dog.  The squirrel would go around to tree to avoid me but that’s exactly where Rennie was stationed.  I had my own “gun”, a Daisy BB gun, but I never took it out in the woods.  Mostly, I’d just plunk tin cans in the front yard.

The Rosencrans household had a TV and, around 1956, I’d usually wander over there about twice a week after school.  We’d watch “Davy Crockett” and “The Mickey Mouse Club” which starred the original Mouseketeers.  Rennie and I were fascinated by how Annette’s chest seemed to be growing faster than those of the other girls. Jimmy was still too young to care. Their older sister, Janice, would just turn away in disgust as we ogled Annette. 

I used to find it fascinating to watch Wayne Rosencrans as he worked in his garage.  He’d lost a leg in a motorcycle accident and had a “wooden leg”.  Despite that, he was nimble enough to lie on his “creeper” and crawl under cars to effect repairs.  It those days, tires still had inner tubes and Wayne would patch them using a “hot patch” system.  That involved smearing some glue and a patch onto the tube, lighting it on fire and then, fairly quickly, blowing out the flames as the tube and patch melted together.  He called the glue “bugaboo” and its smell remains with me after all these years.  Wayne was also a hunter, majoring in “coons”.  He once brought home 3 baby raccoons whose mother he had probably shot.  His wife, Blanche, nursed them with baby bottles and they thrived.  They were a lot of fun for a year or two until they grew nasty and tried to bite us.  They were then given their freedom.

By the time I was 6, my brother Bob was 19 and working over in Jersey.  He’d come home for weekends though and he’d sometimes bring me presents.  The best of these were the books.  They included dog books (“Lad Of Sunnybank”) by Albert Payson Terhune, the “Black Stallion” series by Walter Farley, the Tarzan series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and some more about The Rover Boys.  I guess he bought me a dictionary, too, or else I asked Dad about words I didn’t know.  By age 10, I knew such words as “veranda” (where the dog used to sleep) and “juggernaut” (he got hit by one.)  I also formed some MIS-information from my dealings with Bob.  He’d ask me to hand him a pair of his pants and it wasn’t until I was about 20 that learned that “gabardine” ISN’T a shade of green and “corduroy” isn’t always brown.  Hey, give me break!  What does a little kid know about fabrics or textures?  The colors were much more obvious a difference.

From time to time in my earliest years, I’d see my brother Cliff when we went out to Clete Holcomb’s house to watch the Friday night fights on his TV.  (I can still recall that Gillette parrot asking “How are ya fixed for blades?”).  When I was 7 or so and he was 13 (about 1953), we’d play catch out in the yard although I wasn’t all that coordinated yet and would miss it as often as I’d catch it.   We’d turn on the radio, run it out through a window onto the porch, and listen to any one of four games we could pick up there in Northeastern PA.  We sampled the Philadelphia Phillies, the New York Yankees and Giants, and, best of all, the Brooklyn Dodgers.  To my 7-year-old ears, those Dodgers had the best names: Campanella, Furillo, Pee Wee Reese and “Duke” Snider.  Duke!  Now THERE was a tough name!  We would have killed to be named Duke for, to us, it symbolized toughness.  Suddenly, in 1958, I could no longer hear them for they had moved to LA.  Luckily, I was in 6th grade then and able to read the newspapers.  I’m now 61 and am STILL a Dodger fan even though they’ve only won one playoff game in the past 19 years; all because they had the best names when I was 7.

Dad used to take me to the movies.  One in a while, it’d be to the indoor Himmler Theater in downtown Dallas but, mostly, we went to either the Sandy Beach or Dallas drive-in theaters.  One very memorable flick was “The Beast Of Hollow Mountain” in 1956.  To this day, I remember pleading with Dad to take me home.  On-screen a Tyrannosaurus Rex was chasing a poor sandal-clad Mexican boy and there were close-ups of those monstrous feet CLOMP, CLOMP, CLOMPNG down and just barely missing the fleeing youngster.  Dad got a kick out of my terror and told me to just hide under the dash.  Ole Rex got his come-uppance when he was lured into some quicksand and drowned. I was greatly relieved.  Dad was VERY lucky that I hadn’t “relieved” myself in my shorts!  LOL

When he was 14 and I was 8, Cliff began hitchhiking back to visit me in Mooretown and Dad would often take us both to the drive-in.  Unlike today’s sound systems with their short-range signals picked up by your car’s radio, in those days, the speakers were attached to posts and had to be hung from your side window.  Because he was older, Cliff always “rode shotgun” while I had to sit on our ’52 Chevy’s bench seat between him and Dad.  Accordingly, I couldn’t reach the speaker and it fell to Cliff to hang it back on the post when the movie(s) ended.  He forgot one night and Dad pulled away, ripping the speaker from the post.  Dad, of course, yelled at ME.  He wouldn’t yell at Cliff for, although Cliff was his son, too, he wasn’t being raised in our home.  Dad was as honest as the day was long and he sheepishly returned the speaker, with its wire dragging, to the concession stand.  Just as had happened at the church Christmas service (see my first chapter, titled “Mooretown – My First 6 Years”) his ears were a’wigglin’.  That tended to happen every time he was embarrassed.

From time to time, Cliff and I could get into mischief without even leaving the house.  If he stayed overnight, we’d both sleep on the couch in the living room.  Dad’s bedroom was immediately on the other side of the wall abutting the couch.  He’d bang on the wall to get rid of “those damned mice” he thought were scurrying about inside it.  In reality, it was just Cliff and I scratching our fingernails on our side of the wall.  Over time, we learned of the two things that Dad would never eat “in this lifetime”: cottage cheese (which he called by its Pennsylvania Dutch name, “schmearcase”), and licorice.  Dad worked on the Ross Township roads at that time and would pack his lunch bucket each night and stick it in the fridge to save time in the morning.  We managed to buy some licorice and pack it inside the lunch bucket when he wasn’t looking.  The next day, the bucket sat in the roadside sun until noon and only then did he discover the licorice meted on his sandwiches.

In the 1950’s there were no major “grocery stores” west of Dallas. We, for the most part, bought what we needed at Fred Kittle’s store (see my story about that) which was a little more than a mile west of our home on Route 115. Like most kids, I’d beg for candy and my favorites were thin chocolates about 1” square called “Grade A’s”.  Once in a while, when I was 6 or so, Dad would refuse me but I didn’t mind.  I’d try to buy them using large overcoat buttons as currency and Fred would sometimes humor me.  Hey, if I later thought gabardine was always green and corduroy was always brown, it’s no stretch to see how I initially believed that anything flat, round, and hard could buy candy!

Fred also sold Atlantic gasoline but Dad believed in spreading the wealth so we’d fill our car at Irv LaBarr’s gas station.  His brand was Mobil and I can still picture the flying red horse that was the Mobil logo.  Irv himself was most memorable to a little kid, for he was the only person I knew that had white eyebrows.  (Born in 1884, Irv was 20 years older than Dad.) I was about 10 when his place burned down.  On a fall morning he’d come to work and tried to light his heating stove, unaware that his underground gas tanks had leaked, saturating the soil beneath the office\store building.  With a tremendous WHOOSH ,the entire place went up in flames and poor Irv was lucky to escape.  Unfortunately, he lost those white eyebrows.   I’d almost forgotten about that incident but, about two years ago, I decided to write about his place and his grandchildren reminded me of the fire.  They were quite young when it happened and they didn’t have any “before” or “after” pictures I could borrow.  None of the neighbors had any, either, and all his former employees have passed away and I had to abandon that story idea.  I will mention one small detail about his place, though, related to me by his granddaughter Susan.  She and her brother, Dick, had a pet crow who had been taught to speak a few words.  On summer Sundays, the crow could be found perched on the windowsill of an open window at the nearby church.  I don’t know if he tried to sing along with the congregation but he sure enjoyed the music.

I don’t think I initially tried out for the Sweet Valley “Little League” team until 1955 when I was 9.  We weren’t actually part of the true Little League which has a Federal charter and holds its World Series in Williamsport.  We were just a bunch of kids from Sweet Valley and surrounding towns whose Dads had time to coach and didn’t bother worrying about charters and such.  Our league called itself the Rural Boys League and, happily for me, the Sweet Valley team got to be the Dodgers.  ( I guess I wasn’t the only one in town who thought the Brooklyn team had the best names.)   I guess I shouldn’t use the term “tried out” for, unlike, the modern-day true “Little League” teams for which  I coached in 1970’s Richmond, VA, no one got turned down.  Anyone who showed up made the team and there was just ONE team; no “A” and “B” teams.  Upon reflection, that was both good and bad.  Today, the less-talented kids end up on a ”B” team and at least get to play against kids of similar talent level.  Even as a lesser talent on the fringe of an “A “ team, one gets to bat at least once and play for 3 outs on defense.  In the picture below, I count no less than TWENTY ONE kids on the 1957 team.  It’s thereby a lead-pipe cinch that many of us in our first year or two never got to play at all.  We merely practiced a lot and “rode the pine”.

The older kids had nothing whatsoever to fear from me when I was 9.  Oh, I did “try out” for the team but that lasted only one appearance.  I caught sight of Tommy Raspen pitching at practice.  A year or two older than me, that sonuvagun was ambidextrous and could pitch both left and right-handed!  Regardless of which arm he used, he positively blew the ball past anyone daring to stand in against him.  I think I told Dad “If THAT’S how they throw the ball in this league, I’d rather not be a part of it” and he took me home. I was braver at age 10 in the summer of 1956, actually “made the team”, and got into a game or two.  I had a decent enough arm and played left field. 

The summer of 1957 was my shining moment.  I was stronger and could actually hit the fast balls.  I was also lazy at that young age and was reluctant to run clear back out to the outfield each inning, so I convinced them to let me play third base. I still had that outfielder’s arm, though, and about half the time I’d chuck the ball over the head of Bobby Kunkle, the first baseman.   Jimmie Rosencrans was on my team and I’d often load up on carbs at his house, in the form of spaghetti, before a game. My teammates learned that, once the game started, they were to tease me by calling me “Mary Lou”. That was in honor of my infatuation with, as I’ve said, Mary Lou Buck.  Mad as all get out, I’d get fired up and able to smack the ball a long way.  I think I hit 6 home runs in that 16-game season.  Our opponents were from Hunlock Creek, Shickshinny, Mocanaqua, and Huntington Mills and we played them each 4 times from May though August.  The most memorable HR was against Hunlock Creek.  We’d knocked out their starter and I was the first batter to face their reliever, a large kid named Dave Yarnell.  I just knew that the first pitch would be his heater and it seemed as if I started my swing about halfway through his delivery.  I connected and sent the ball way beyond the centerfield fence for a homer.  Yarnell fumed on the mound as I circled the bases, laughing the entire way.  Yarnell was later revealed to have been about two years older than the age limit for our league. Away games across the river in Mocanaqua were memorable, too.  A badly-rutted dirt road led to their diamond and we were almost afraid to give our best effort there, for there was no quick way to escape.  If we won, the mostly-Italian community would throw rocks at our cars as we left.  Their team had one really fat kid called “Spanky” who could barely run at all.  He was once the lead runner in a 2-out, bases-loaded situation.  I fielded a hot grounder to the left of third base and could have easily tagged the runner coming from second base or else beaten him to the bag for an inning-ending force play.  I chose instead to let Spanky huff and puff over halfway home and then casually tossed the ball to the catcher.  The post-game shower of rocks was especially heavy that day.

We won the championship in 1957 and I will soon explain why I didn’t make the team picture.  

1957_little_league_champs.jpg (235543 bytes)

Courtesy of Bob Kunkle.

I also played the 1958 season and DID make the picture that time since Dad and I were back from California to stay. Given Dad’s severe fall down the economic ladder, we no longer lived in the Sweet Valley “suburb” of Mooretown. Living now with Uncle Mike and loony old Grandpa, I didn’t get to hike over to the Rosencrans house to load up on spaghetti before a game. Dad was working on Renold Morris’ farm just over the road and woudn’t get home until after I had left for a game. I wasn’t talented enough at age 11-turning-12 to cook my own spaghetti.  Then, too, had I even dared to touch his stove, Grandpa may have clubbed me. (I TOLD you he was loony.)  Oh, I didn’t starve but, somehow, like Popeye without his spinach, I didn’t “feel the power” and only hit only one home run or two.  John Maciejczak and his boys, Ted and Wally, would pick me up for each game.  Ted and I became buddies and, from then on, we always were seatmates on Fred Updyke’s bus all the way through high school.

Whether or not our team won the championship in 1958 is in doubt. Given that I had missed getting a trophy for 1957 when we HAD won, I’m fairly sure I would still (in my 60’s) have one from 1958 if we’d earned it.  Eddie Bear, who has kindly donated the following picture, recalls that we did at least have a playoff game against Hunlock in September after school had started. A year ahead of me, he was one of the youngest kids in his class.  He had, at the time of that game, just begun 8th grade and he received endless teasing for STILL playing Little League.  I’d imagine that Jimmy Kittle and Alan Covert got similar razzing.

 

Courtesy of Louise Lord.

For a year or two during this period I was a member of a Cub Scout pack.  I don’t really recall how I got to the meetings.  I guess Dad took me.   My pack had two den mothers; the first was a Mrs. Dennis, wife of a local barber near Warren Boston’s garage in Pikes Creek and later, Ken Kreller’s mother (STEP-mother I learned when doing genealogical research) assumed that role.  This is where I first met a fellow who has turned out to be my lifelong best pal, Rich Bronson.  He lived near Lake Silkworth in Lehman Township and attended a grade school there, so we didn’t really see each other outside of Cub Scout meetings until we hit junior high. 

It was also during these years that I learned to swim, a talent that stood me in good stead at Navy boot camp.  My brothers Bob and Cliff took me to what would later become my teenage hangout, North Lake.  The lake was, for the most part, surrounded by privately-owned lots but there was one public beach.  It featured a dock that had once been maybe 100 feet long but, over the years, its decking had rotted away to only 45-or-so feet.  A couple of the old piers remained out of sight underwater.  Stronger swimmers with the best lungs could dive off the dock and swim underwater out to the old piers.   It was all Bob and Cliff could get me to do to even dive off the dock, for the water even there was will above my head.  They eventually got me to try it, for a promised payment of fifty cents. I bravely did it and then the buggers wouldn’t pay me!  The really “big” teenage boys could swim all the way across North Lake but that was something I never ventured to try until I as in college.  Even then, I did it only with my buddy, Jess Peiffer, rowing a boat with my friend, Joanne Knapp, inside to fish me out if I cramped up.

Speaking of fishing,  Dad tried to get me interested but failed miserably.  I’d follow him through the creek-side bushes as he sought the elusive trout but the bushes only smacked me in the face and made me cry.  In a boat on a pond seeking out bass, the bugs would eat me up and he soon relinquished that idea, too.  We once went turkey hunting and stationed ourselves along a trail used by white tail deer.  Apparently, turkey season coincided with rutting season for the deer.  A buck smelled us and stopped to investigate further.  Rattling his antlers and pawing the ground angrily, he steadily approached us, closer and closer.  He won the game of “chicken” and I disregarded Dad’s admonition to remain stock still.  I jumped and yelled and the buck took off like a shot.

Along about age 10, I got my first introduction to politics.  Dad was working then on either the state or county roads.  Both positions were part of the “spoils system” and he attained a patronage handout courtesy of our neighbor, Cliff Stroud, who was a staunch Republican committeeman.  On the night of a general election, we’d go to Cliff’s house to watch the returns on TV.  Not fully understanding their interests exactly, I’d bring along my tablet and pencil and take a seat on the floor close to the TV.  I’d scribble furiously as I tried to keep up, turning from time to time to exclaim “Dad, this guy has TWICE as many votes as the other guy!”  Only when I was ignored did I learn that they only cared about one office or two and didn’t give a hoot about the race for dogcatcher in Wilkes-Barre.

My happy childhood in Mooretown came to an abrupt crashing end in August, 1957.  Dad announced that he was getting re-married and, in conjunction with that, we were moving to California!!!  My Little League team had just won the championship but we left before I could even get in the team picture.  We made arrangements to sell the house to Dick Stroud (son of Cliff) and his wife Marion.  Mom’s piano was sold to Julius Verbyla and Dad didn’t even take time to clean out the piano bench, inside which were items other than just sheet music.  Only years later did I get some pictures returned to me; the very pictures of my youngest days that are part of my first chapter in this saga.  Mom’s china closet, the one with the curved glass that sat in the corner of our dining room, went to Freda Kittle.  I don’t know who bought our car or what became of my dog, Tiny.  Dad announced this all as a great new adventure and I reluctantly accepted that assessment; an assessment that, as we shall see, turned out to be horribly WRONG.

Next chapter: “California”

Written in March, 2008 by

 

Ronald E. Hontz

33 Whitcraft Lane

Shrewsbury PA 17361

(717) 235-5791

cell phone (717) 309-1402

e-mail: Sweetvalleykid@gmail.com

 

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